Short-form media are shredding student attention spans

Many social media platforms integrated short-form content into their design

Studio watching video

Kylie Choi

Acalanes student juggles short-form media and homework

As an Acalanes student opens up his Algebra II assignment, Netflix flashes on the TV behind him and TikTok songs blare from his phone. After attempting the same math problem a couple times, he decides to take a break and scrolls through Instagram for a couple of hours. 

   With the growing popularity of social media and short-form content among young people, Acalanes teachers noticed a shift in student behavior with unknown long-term effects. 

   Short-form content videos are typically between 15 seconds and two minutes. The content is exciting enough to maintain interest, yet long enough to convey a message in an engaging way. 

   A study from the Microsoft Corporation shows that since the year 2000, the average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds to eight seconds, or about as long as a goldfish. 

   “I think [my shortened attention span] is due to social media. It’s probably because social media offers many different things that happen at once,” Acalanes junior Taylor Radding said. 

   Many social media platforms integrated short-form content into their design. TikTok’s popularity led other apps to create their own similar versions. Facebook created Instagram Reels in Nov. 2019 and Spotlight, Snapchat’s adaptation of TikTok, emerged the following year. 

   “Predominantly, I use Instagram. Personally, I like to see what my friends are posting and I watch Reels,” Radding said. 

   While some students enjoy short-form content in their free time, it encroaches on the time others spend doing schoolwork. 

   “When I’m doing my homework sometimes, I’ll just go on TikTok aimlessly and scroll through the For You page. Sometimes it distracts me, but then I have to put my phone away and get to work,” Acalanes freshman Sam Bishop said. 

   Some students feel the effects of their shortened attention spans while doing schoolwork.                                  

   “I get distracted very easily, and doing multiple tasks at the same time is hard. I think that my short attention span makes me procrastinate more, because it makes it much harder for me to focus. I also think that I’m having a more difficult time paying attention to lectures in my classes,” Radding said.

   While many students struggle with paying attention, teachers recognize the problem as well.  

   “Students are looking for immediate information, and if they’re not getting the immediate information, they’re tending to space out or disengage and not really pay attention,” Acalanes English teacher Erin Barth said. 

   In past years, teachers noticed lower attention spans in the students they educate. The creation of new technology in the past decades greatly contributed to this decrease.    

   “[There’s been a change] this year especially, but I have also noticed it in the last 10 years … We’ve been talking about that for a long time, since maybe cell phones,” Acalanes Human Social Development teacher Liz Cusick said. 

   Since social media is relatively new, more issues like this may develop as time goes on, raising more challenges for both students and teachers alike. 

   In order to attempt to combat the issue of reduced attention spans, some teachers attempt to modify their curriculum. 

   The students “weren’t able to sit for extended periods of time and read what I was asking them to read, so I switched it to something that had a little bit easier of a reading level … I need to get back up to where I want them to be,” Barth said.

   For now, educators are dealing with the issue at hand of reduced attention spans and are working to determine the best way to navigate through these new waters. 

   “I think that education is changing slowly but surely, and I think that we as educators are still trying to find how to change it or fight the battle of learning how to change it,” Cusick said.